"The Art of Rivalry", a Fascinating Read by Jeannine Cook

A book that is really fascinating and well worth reading. Passion, friendship, envy, ambition, betrayal, angst and genius: eight artists about whom we all know something but will learn a great deal more in this book.

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How Artists' Work Evolves over the Years by Jeannine Cook

Does an artist remain faithful to early visions and inspirations for art creation over the passage of twenty-five years? Measuring my own evolution, I find that I have just moved in closer to look at the nature that surrounds us, to marvel at details that often get overlooked in our busy lives.

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"Treat Life like Art" by Jeannine Cook

Maya Angelou wrote that we should "treat life like art" and to "remember that we are all created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed". I had been going to write about the interconnection of life and the visual arts, but as I was opening up this blog site, I began reading Tyler Green's entries in Modern Art Notes about Considering Torture through Art and Bruce Nauman's Double Steel Cage Piece. It seemed an ironic reversal of what Maya Angelou said. The recent and increasing discussions about the Bush-era issues of torture and abuse remind one that many people do not, in any way, see life as potentially beautiful or noble or even ethical. As Tyler Green said correctly, artists are among the few people who can address such issues as torture since they are "independent contractors", able to "embrace ambiguity rather than reject it" and address it through art.

Not all of us, as artists, feel equipped to tackle such important and weighty subjects, but thank goodness there are many who are the conscience of a society. However, I also feel that each artist is particularly passionate about some important issue and thus will marry life and art as eloquently as possible. In my case, it is the natural world and the need to respect and care for it that move me.

To that end, often, I find that the choice of what I paint or draw is, consciously or subconsciously, guided by environmental concerns and observations. Even when one works plein air, there is a constant "invention of new scenarios" by pruning and editing of the scene in front of one to achieve better the desired effect. Life and art are so closely allied that it is hard to separate them out and the art of living, or living for art, are both full time occupations, requiring practice and thought, a code of conduct and a very necessary sense of humour. As Ms. Angelou reminds us, there is always that gift too - the option of inventing new scenarios, in our own lives, or on canvas or paper - an option to grow as an artist, as a person. She also said, "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." A good thought for an artist to remember!

Does "a biological sense of place" help in creating art? by Jeannine Cook

Yesterday, I alluded to the question that I kept thinking about when I was working as Artist in Residence in Dinan, Brittany, through Les Amis de la Grande Vigne: does it help an artist to know well the area when he or she is painting, either en plein air, or creating work that is connected to a sense of place?

I think that a sense of comfort and familiarity frees up the artist to concentrate more on the actual art. It is really almost the same as "terroir", the biological sense of place that wine-growers talk of when they refer to specific geographical areas dictating certain characteristics in the wine produced from those regions. If you intrinsically know the place where you are working as an artist, you know, almost intuitively, the possible plays of light on the scene, the patterns, the rhythms of tides or seasons, the soils, the type of plants that grown there, etc. Because you already have this knowledge deep inside you, you can factor things in more easily as you are working. Understanding how the area "functions" means that you are not struggling so much to convey its character when you are drawing or painting.

Claude Monet is perhaps one of the most famous artists who used his sense of place, or "terroir", to allow him to produce extraordinary art. Starting with his famous series of 25 paintings of Haystacks, for instance, in 1890, Monet got to know those stacks of hay in all their times of day and weather.

Haystacks - Snow Effect, 1891, Claude Monet (Image courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)

Haystacks - Snow Effect, 1891, Claude Monet (Image courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum)

His interest in producing series of paintings continued almost unabated until the end of his life in 1926. He explored the different aspects of Poplars along the river banks in all weather and times of day. Rouen Cathedral was another series which showed his fascination with this mighty structure in its amazing diversities of light. Perhaps the most celebrated, in terms of his sense and knowledge of place, is his huge body of work , "Les Nympheas", painted at his home, Giverny, based on the waterlilies growing in the pond he created. There are 250 canvases in the series, many showing his eyesight problems with cataracts. Nonetheless, his knowledge of Giverny was almost visceral, since he had virtually created the place. This familiarity allowed him to paint masterpieces that have captivated the world ever since.

Monet's example makes a very good case for an artist to get to know an area as thoroughly as possible when creating art. Maybe "terroir" is as desirable for artists as it is for wine-growers!

"The 10,000-Hour Rule" for Art? by Jeannine Cook

I was reading a piece by Malcolm Gladwell about the "10,000 Hour Rule" talked about by scientists. Gladwell, author of the bestsellers Tipping Point and Blink, has also written about the secrets of successful people in his recent book, Outliers: the Story of Success. The 10,000 hours in question are linked, it seems, to achieving success in no matter what field. Whether it is writing, computer programming, composing music or creating art, it apparently applies.

I deduce a simple, forceful message for artists from this: no matter what your medium, practice, practice, practice. You may or may not initially have huge artistic talent, but the message is that if you apply yourself intelligently and diligently to creating art, you can and will become a better artist. I find that both challenging and encouraging. The "Painting a Day" movement is really a marvellous step towards this concept, and one all artists should try and embrace, even if the results are not put on the Web. All the artists one sees going around in public spaces, a drawing book in hand, or quickly catching some scene with deft lines, are doing themselves a huge favour too.

Now that I have publicly reminded myself what I should be doing this very moment, I must be off to do some silverpoint drawing!

An example of one-a-day-Painting

An example of one-a-day-Painting